Saturday, August 30, 2014

It's All About The Guys In Pointy Hats

   This year has been such a topsy-turvy roller coaster ride…..with hours, days, weeks, and now months spent helping my Dad during an ever changing event involving my Mom.

  What began, soon after we returned from Umbria in May, as a critical situation from a nasty fall, has finally turned a corner….and I can see a very bright light at the end of this long tunnel. I am amazed at the human body and its ability to heal.
 (Mom, you ROCK.)

  Now, with the worst of it all behind us(fingers crossed!!), I can relax a little and have some fun…..
  And, hey, what's more fun than photos of Gnomes & Sette Nani?!?

  I know I promised a couple of years ago that I would stop my obsessive picture taking of these various fellows, but I can't. I know I can't. It's just too easy, and they pop up everywhere we go.
  Why fight the urge…..


A cheery, yoga-savvy gnome welcomes us to a trattoria near Lago Trasimeno.

  Yes, Welcome…to the land of very odd fellows in pointy hats. 

  My pal and sister blogger, Dana, schooled me and her fellow readers on the difference between gnomes and the Seven Dwarves ("settee nani" in Italian) here, in her own wonderful blog. 
  I just pretty much love them all, and snap pictures at the drop of a pointy hat.
  The fun is in the hunt. I love to be surprised, and you never know when or where these jaunty dudes will show up….

A nice forest theme going on here…I think…
But the carpet, shells and palm frond kind of throw me.

  Many times, our be-hatted pal will show up all alone, no other friends in sight…..

I am quite fond of the shell shaped hat. It shows up often.
Here, he has only bizarre architectural debris for company.

 Sometimes there will be some sort of reference to a specific "career choice" in their dress….

Here we have a gardener gnome, complete with watering can.
And cheesy tinsel. And lights.

If I remember right, this miner lives in Pietrafitta.
We got caught in a big thunderstorm just moments after I took this shot.

Grave digger….
Isn't he great? I love his expression.

Well, I mean…Come on!
We have to have an artist in the family, right?!?
I had a really hard time holding back on swiping this guy.
I did not swipe.

  Sure, it's sad to see these happy little fellows all alone, knowing how social they can be. So it's always a treat to see them hanging out with pals.
  All kinds of…umm…pals.

Arm/paw wrestling? One potato two potato? Rock, Paper, Scissors?
 Not sure, but I like it.

I'm not so certain this guy is completely down with the ducks.
He looks kind of nervous.

  The next couple of shots were too good to be true. I only wish I could have gotten closer, but I've learned only too well the embarrassment and humiliation of being yelled at in Italian. 
  Still….a closer shot would have been sweet…..sigh.

I think the gnomes are having themselves a good old fashioned turtle race.
Either that, or a good old fashioned turtle hunt. I do see a few hatchets….
Soup anyone?

Ok. Please take a good, close look.
We have here Snow White, all Seven Dwarves,
 St. Nick and Godzilla. I love you, whoever you are.

  Having been both a professional gardener, and in a couple of bands (back in the day), I really got a big old kick out of seeing this happy group together one afternoon.
  Gnomes after my very own heart.

Also, I just can't get over the stylish footwear.
I think the beards are tie on, though...

  It's always a coup to catch the whole gang together. I especially look for the vintage sets. They are few and far between, and yet….and yet….

  Poor Johnny, having to pull the car over. Over and over and over….so I can hop out and snap a quick shot before being spotted. 
  It's a tough job, Dear Readers, and I certainly hope you appreciate the risks I take to entertain you, time and time again.

  Ok, I'm mostly having fun entertaining my own selfish self, but why not try to throw some blame out there into the void? 
  You make me do this. You, you!

  Ummmm…where was I? Oh!
 Yes, the lovely vintage sets of " Biancaneve e i Sette Nani" (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves), and their rare appearances.

Spotted from a (slow) moving car, I had to yelp a "stop!" to get the shot.

So, so worth it. This is a spectacular scene, even though
 one of the seven was hiding too far behind the tree to get him into the shot.
This was the best angle I could do, dang it.

  The final two images, of the same group, I have seen before, and actually have shown in a previous post, but this year they were out and really having themselves a good time. 
  After all, it was a "World Cup" year, right?

"Biancaneve, you are the best coach, ever!"

"I know, I know….now let's quit goofing around and bring home the win, ok guys?"

  Sadly, no win for our beloved Team Italia this year…but there's always next time.

  I love my quest for the perfect shot, especially of these wacky fellows. I guess I won't stop anytime soon, even after the close calls and being busted and yelled at a few times. What I need to do is learn more Italian, so I can properly and respectfully explain myself when the going gets, well, dicey.
  Who wouldn't understand? I figure this: If you take the time to display these fine fellows out front in your garden, you must want people to enjoy them…right?

  Oh, Janelle, you just rationalize your little obsession whichever way you need to……and quit climbing over fences, ok?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Two Years, Two Lunches In Valiano

  I'm hungry.
  I'm thinking about how great it would be to snap my fingers and be magically transported to Valiano, a small town just on the border of Umbria and Tuscany. It's just off the road between Castiglione del Lago and Montepulciano, the SS454... a lovely little drive, indeed.

  We happened onto Valiano like we happen onto most places we love….by chance. A drive in the countryside to look for a painting location, turns into the discovery of a great place to stop for a wonderful lunch.

  In this particular case, I'm hungry for Piccola Trattoria Guastini, in Valiano. We've eaten here twice, two consecutive years, for lunch. I think this will be a must visit every year now. 

The entrance to the trattoria, and it's patio area.

  I didn't write about our first visit in 2013, so I'm going to now… 
  It was a really warm day, and Johnny and I had rented bikes which we had fun riding around the nearby Lago di Montepulciano. On an earlier visit to this charming little town, we had stopped to take a look at the menu here, and liked what we saw. The plan was a bike ride, lunch, and painting. afterwards.

  We were so happy to have made a reservation for one of the outdoor tables. They have a lovely patio, with views over the valley and hills. 

An extra treat…all the cool light fixtures are made by our pal, Tonino!


  We made ourselves quite comfortable, cooled down a bit, and ordered a wonderful Tiburzi Santambra, a sangiovese blend from the Montefalco area. 

  We enjoyed a first course of locally produced mozzarella, paired with sweet tomatoes from the south, and drizzled with local olive oil, of course.
  It made for a nice bite after our biking adventure…ahhhhh.

The colors of the Italian flag, in all their deliciousness.

  I was happy to see a few vegetarian options on the menu, though one of the specialties is a pigeon ravioli. Maybe in another life, but probably not.
  Johnny just asked me to order whatever I thought would be good, so I did. For Mr. J, the house made tagliatelle with forest mushrooms of the season:

Mmmm, mmm, mmmmm.

  And for me, the ravioli stuffed with pecanzola, a pecorino cheese infused with gorgonzola, served with really well caramelized onions. 
  Oh. My. God. The sharpness of the cheese combined with the sweetness of the onions…deee-vine. 

  We shared a side of braised field greens with olive oil, garlic and lemon. Typical in this area and season.

Doesn't this look good? 

I can't get enough of the field greens. They just taste so right.

  Since we had taken that long bike ride earlier, we just had to have a sweet treat to end our lunch. Johnny chose a mix of home made biscotti with a small tumbler of vin santo, a dessert wine that is sweet, nutty, and oh-so-smooth.

You must dip the biscotti in the vin santo for full effect.

  I loved my panna cotta with a marmalade of blood orange and fig, if I remember right. 
  Panna cotta is a cooked cream, and a very rich indulgence, for sure. But, hey….the bike ride, remember?

Panna cotta, I just gotta…….la la la la la.

  The inside dining room is nice, too. I can just imagine it at night, with all of Tonino's lights giving off a soft, warm glow….we'll really have to try dinner here next time. It's not that far to drive. You just have to keep your eyes peeled at night time for hedgehogs and porcupines….

  So, as I mentioned, we've been twice now, so I want to share the equally amazing lunch we had this year at Piccola Trattoria Guastini.

  This time the day was perfect…not too warm, and clear views all around.
  We started with a nice white….I think a vermentino, but I honestly don't remember. With whites, we will usually go with vermentino, grechetto, or trebbiano. These are all easy going, and "nice on a warm day" sort of wines.

Pretty as a picture….

  Again, I ordered for both of us, and it was really easy. I wanted to try both of the vegetarian antipasti available on this day, so….we did.

Their version of "Panzanella", or bread salad. So lovely and so refreshing.
The tomatoes were sweet, with some crunchy celery in there, too. Just a nice touch of garlic….

  I couldn't resist trying this vegetable "tortino"…it's sort of a small baked veggie "pie", only this definition doesn't come close. Just look at it, and you'll get the idea...

Tortino di Verdure…Vegetable pie.
I liked the little crispy, just this side of burnt, bits...

  On the day we went this year, there was only one vegetarian pasta dish, so I ordered it for both of us, and it was wonderful. Ravioli with ricotta and wild asparagus, served with more asparagus on top. 
  The wild asparagus is nothing like the kind we buy in the markets here. It has a sweet and subtle flavor, with a touch of "mineral" to it. It's so thin. 
  Reminds me of those old fashioned asparagus plants we all had in our bedrooms as little hippie kids. 

So good with a dusting of parmigiano reggiano.
I remember the filling being so warm and succulent-creamy.
Perfection on a plate...

  Even though we hadn't taken a long bike ride, which is just a lame excuse anyway….we both ordered a sweet treat…and didn't have a single millisecond of regret.
  Johnny loves cinnamon, honey and cheese, so it was natural for him to try this very interesting dessert…It was a locally made soft cheese, drizzled with local honey, and topped with special pistachios from Sicily, and a good sprinkling of cinnamon.
  Not a yogurt, not mascarpone, I think it may have been a sheep's cheese. It was quite nice.

  Me? Well, why fool around with it. I just had the most chocolate-y thing on offer. It was served with preserved blueberries in syrup. Not bad….not bad at all….
  I liked it very much, and we dipped into each others plates and mixed stuff up even. A great combo together, in fact.

I can see myself taking this photo in the spoon..hehehehehe.

Oh, and espresso, natch.

  Shockingly, because all I wanted to do was nap, we stopped nearby afterwards and Johnny set up and painted. 
  Go figure. Must have been the espresso.

Painting just below Valiano

  Ok, maybe I did sneak a nap in the car….just a weensy bit. 
  It was a hard day, man.

If you are anywhere near the Lago Trasimeno area, you'll want to visit Piccola Trattoria Guastini!!